I recently went to Europe for the first time in my life. A number of countries are on my ‘bucket list’ and Italy was definitely one of them. I would have loved to spend 2 weeks there to see the sites, but this quick trip had just two primary goals; 1) eat as much as possible and 2) attend a fitness-related “marketing” workshop.
Goal #1 — I put on 3 kilos in 4 days so goal #1 was definitely accomplished. If we’re Facebook friends, head over there and check out some of the photos of my time in Milan and Florence (IMAGES).
Goal #2 — The “marketing” workshop I mentioned was the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer workshop. Now, before any of my anti-CrossFit friends and colleagues stop reading and unfriend me on social media, please read on.
Over the years, I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve been hesitant to recommend CrossFit to clients and fitness enthusiasts. When asked about it, my answer has always been - it depends. I wrote a quick article about this nearly 3 years ago (ARTICLE) and I still follow this line of thinking. There is no one-size-fits-all in our industry; I believe performing WODs a couple times a week is perfectly fine for some folks, but not the best option for others.
So why did I call it a marketing workshop? Take a look at a recent conversation I had out here in Saudi with a prospective client. I’ve had this conversation more than once since I’ve been here…
Me: “We will begin with some goal-setting, assessment work, and game-planning…and then we’ll progress to focusing on better movement quality as well as strength development. I’d also like to incorporate some metabolic conditioning, or interval training as most people refer to it, into the routines.”
Client: “Most of that sounds great, but what is interval training? And meta what?”
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m referring to circuit training…does that help?”
Client: “Oh, you mean we will do CrossFit?!? Cool. I’ve seen that on TV…I’m in!”
You can’t deny the power of the brand. They’ve done an amazing job at marketing and promotion and helping to bring the concept of “fitness” to the masses. So, if clients relate the term CrossFit to mean circuits and met-cons, I’m fine with that. It’s semantics in my eyes, especially when dealing with the general population.
It’s All About Connecting
Honestly, at the end of the day, do most clients care about the “alphabet soup” after your name? 99% of them don’t. But, if they relate to CrossFit and some of the CrossFit terminology, then I want to learn more about it. I can say we are going through a 2-movement WOD or “couplet” as our finisher and they will know what I mean because they are familiar with the term. I believe you can have a BA, MS, PhD, CSCS, RKC, etc., but if you don’t connect with that person, then you aren’t going to get results. Obviously education is extremely important, but without that personal bond, reaching goals will be much more challenging.
I also feel you should try something before you criticize. How can you form an educated opinion on something if you’ve never even experienced it yourself? You laugh at the ‘Face Trainer’, but have you even tried it?!
Ok, bad example perhaps, but you get my point. Get out and do it for yourself so you can speak from experience and not just from what you heard or read online.
I’ve been to a few CrossFit facilities in my day and I’ve had a couple bad experiences and I had a positive one as well (CrossFit Invictus plug HERE). Without question, the same could be said for any type of facility…I’ve seen quality training and programming at some big box gyms and I’ve seen exercises and cuing that makes my eyes bleed. There is quality training and dangerous training being done at many gyms around the world, regardless of the name on the front of the building.
I won’t go into detail of my CrossFit ‘Pros vs. Cons’ list…I feel I echo a large majority of fellow fitness professionals who run in the same circles…here’s a brief rundown:
- Little programming – Lack of a plan
- Lack of frontal & transverse plane movements
- The one size fits all approach for many things
- High rep Olympic lifts – Just goes against everything I’ve learned
- Risk vs reward concerns – Poor exercise selection for folks who have no business performing them
- Community/Atmosphere – They create a great environment
- Teamwork/Friendly Competition – You will probably work harder during a WOD with a group of people than you will performing a workout on your own somewhere else
- Making “Fitness” mainstream – Deals with Reebok & ESPN have been amazing at creating exposure and bringing fitness to the people
Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop. There were attendees from all over the world…I had dinner with two great people, one from Greece and one from Hungary. If you told me a year ago that I’d be in Italy at a CrossFit workshop having dinner with people from two other countries, I would have said you were crazy.
All the folks I met were great and the instructors were friendly, knowledgable, and helpful. Ironically, the lead instructor was from San Diego (small world). Any program that emphasizes compound lifts and encourages movement and getting people off their ass, I’m in favor of. That said, I’ll share of few of my concerns first…
1. Power – I heard a number of times that power was a primary goal. And to improve power, we must focus on lifting heavier loads…research doesn’t necessary support this…Bret Contreras has a great compilation article on his site showing that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to power development. READ IT HERE.
2. Warmup/Movement Improvement – Warm-ups were fairly nonexistent. Before any workouts, we simply did a few reps of the exercises we were going to perform. And when discussing how to improve certain movements? The answer was to just do more of that movement. And, while I don’t disagree with that statement, I feel that’s only part of the solution…there are proven benefits to some direct mobility and stability work on targeted joints to improve movement quality as well. I realize this is just a 2-day intro course, so I didn’t expect them to go into too much detail on warm-ups and movement patterns; but I was hoping for a bit more.
3. Squat – All weekend I heard that we all had to get below parallel…I disagree. Rather than explain my concerns, I’ll just link you up to a great article on T-Nation from Tony Gentilcore, coach at Cressey Performance. READ IT HERE. Again, one size does not fit all.
4. Certain Exercises – Risk vs Reward
I don’t think a few of the “9 primary movements” are suitable for “most” of the general population. I’m going to generalize but I think it’s safe to say a decent percentage of the general pop should not be performing muscle ups, kipping pull-ups, or snatches. And, for the record, I love Olympic lifts and snatches; I just question their use with many clients. If you’re capable and it makes sense based on your goals and your lifestyle, then go for it. For most folks who sit at a desk for 8+ hours and are looking to “get fit” and lose a couple pounds…these movements likely won’t be included in their program that I create. We can get our client the results they seek with safer alternatives. The shoulders are already beat up enough from our horrible posture throughout the day; adding more stress to the joint with our workouts is only adding fueling to the fire. Our workouts are supposed to get us feeling better, not worse.
I’m friends with a number of rehab specialists and PT’s and they love CrossFit for the “job security”. The number #1 area of concern with new patients coming in with a CrossFit-related injury — the shoulders.
Of the three movements I listed, I have the hardest time accepting the kipping pull-up…which is funny because traditional pull-ups are probably my favorite upper body exercise…add the kip and it becomes my least favorite. Dave Thomas, owner of Performance360 in San Diego, has a great write up HERE expressing some concerns.
Multiple Roads To Success
If you walk into a gym, what percentage of members are able to perform these advanced moves? 1 in 20? 1 in 15 perhaps? Yes, there are regressions available (scaling), and that may be appropriate for some, but I just think there are countless alternatives that are safer, easier to teach, and will still get us great results.
Power Of Referrals
What if the client has no physical limitations and they have performance goals of completing 5 muscle-ups or 20 kipping pull-ups? Or, they want to compete in the CrossFit Games? I’ve got no issue with that at all. I actually think it’s great that they have established fitness-specific goals. I also know that I’m not a oly lifting coach and I’m not proficient in performing advanced gymnastic-type movements . I have no problem referring that client out to a more experienced coach. I actually think it’s good business. Back in San Diego, I know a couple coaches that know a million times more than I do about oly lifts and gymnastics training. I’m happy to get the client to those individuals. Sadly, I don’t have the referral network out here in Saudi but I think having a strong “team” (PT, nutritionist, chiropractor, massage, etc.) is extremely important. It shows you have your client’s best interest in mind and they should appreciate that fact.
1. Emphasis on compound movements – Deadlifts, squats, pushing and pulling…I love it. Those have been part of my programming for years. CrossFit is doing an amazing job of bringing functional, full-body awareness to people around the world.
2. Community – I was high-fiving people I had just met for 5 minutes earlier that day. Do you see strangers encouraging each other and bumping knuckles at the local big box gym? I don’t. This camaraderie and “team” feel is extremely powerful and what I like most about CrossFit. A quick example — at the end of the team WOD on day 1 there was one group still working through their couplet of thrusters and burpees – everyone that was finished surrounded them and cheered them on until they completed their rounds. It’s rare to find that in most gyms. This connection with your fellows exercisers taps into your mindset. You want to push a little bit harder; not just for yourself but for your team as well. Train the mind and the body will follow.
Now, you don’t have to go to a CrossFit affiliate to find this environment, it’s just something they do really well. I worked for years at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, and they have a great environment…I also know a number of other facilities in San Diego that do a great job of creating a positive setting – FitWall, Performance360, Ambition Athletics, San Diego Premier Training, EZIA, Alliance, to name a few…
I don’t think so. I truly believe we can learn something from all the different systems and schools-of-thought that our out there today. To completely dismiss CrossFit and say you can gain nothing from it is short-sighted in my opinion. They must be doing something right. And does anything good come from bashing other forms of fitness? Whether it’s CrossFit, Biggest Loser, Tracy Anderson, or anything else? Can we not learn something from these other fitness-related programs? They are clearly connecting with thousands of people so there has to be something we can learn if we want to grow our business, promote our own systems, and ultimately make fitness more mainstream.
Being a CrossFit level one trainer will be helpful with relating to clients out here in jeddah. Am I going to change the way I program or change the way I train my clients? No, not really. (I did learn a few cues that I really liked that I will definitely incorporate). I will continue to train clients the way I always have…I can simply call our 3-movement finisher a ‘triplet’ now so that they better understand what I’m saying. Again, I think a lot of this is semantics. CrossFit didn’t invent circuit training, but if my clients out here relate to the terms then I see no harm in using it. Aside from a few of those movements that I just can’t on board with, kipping and explosive overhead work for many clients, I look forward to programming some sensible couplets and triplets in the near future.
Absorb, Discard, Add
I think CrossFit-style training can co-exist with some of the other training methods that are out there today. Colleague Max Shank, owner of Ambition Athletics, wrote a great article about this very idea for T-Nation earlier this year. Check it out HERE.
I’m echoing much of what Max states in his article…I also believe there’s a way to improve upon the system. I’m a fan of a program that has a proven strength-emphasis component (5/3/1, Starting Strength, Easy Strength, etc.) and also incorporates conditioning work that compliments that strength work. This conditioning element could be a WOD (metcon, interval, circuit, finisher….semantics). I believe the WOD should be comprised of movements that won’t put the client at tremendous injury risk once intensity gets high and form starts to break down…example: high rep deadlifts or high rep burpees? I’m going burpees every time. I have a hard time wrapping my head around high rep Olympic lifts and heavy high rep compound lifts, such as deadlifts. That said, I’m currently including Dan John’s 50-rep squat protocol into my routine (but the loads are light right now as I plan to progress very slowly). The point is, why not stick with body weight movements such as air squats, push-ups, and burpees for the higher-rep movements to keep injury risk at a minimum…?
Whether you work at a CrossFit facility, a big-box gym, a sports performance facility, or somewhere in between – we are all on the same team – we are all working to empower clients, to provide them with motivation and accountability, and to help them live healthier and happier lives. Why not take the positives of the different camps that are out there and create an effective blend of ideas that works for you and your client? “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own” ~ Lee.
Makes sense to me.
About Doug Balzarini Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Bellator Champion Michael Chandler, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).
He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TFW Level 1, TRX instructor training, RIP training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his 2 DVD projects on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” FOX TV show in 2012.
For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.